Friday, December 8, 2023

Pioneer headed to greener pastures

Ralph Morriss is heading to wide open spaces after living in his family’s Flower Mound homestead for the past 15 years. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

Members of the Morriss family have lived on land in Flower Mound they originally settled– and bears their name– since 1875. But, if everything goes according to plan, that will end this year.

The home at 5141 Morriss Rd. that Ralph Morriss’ ancestors built in 1923, plus the remaining 1.22-acres of the original 123 acres, is for sale.

A longtime smoker with diabetes and high blood pressure, the man who turns 85 this month wants to spend the remainder of his days in a more rural area– like Flower Mound was before the 1970s when Morriss Road was nothing but dirt. Once his real estate broker, Erica Zubieta Perez at Keller Williams, finds that one good offer, Morriss intends to move to northern Denton County.

Morriss originally tried selling the house himself in September and when nothing came of it, he turned that job over to Perez.

“When I had my ‘for sale by owner’ sign up, mostly neighbors would stop by and, frankly, I think they were more worried about whether they would have tomatoes next year or did I get sick or whatever,” he said.

Morriss is looking at places like Sanger, Valley View and Gainesville, where he can continue to farm and sell vegetables, like he has since moving into the family home 15 years ago.

One question for whomever buys the property is, what to do with it.

“Right now it’s zoned residential,” Perez said. “It will continue as residential unless the owners want to get a variance from the city to switch it to commercial or a duplex.”

A challenge is that the property is not currently connected to Flower Mound’s municipal sewer system, so Perez is talking to the town to learn what needs to be done to make that happen, including if the house would need to be condemned.

As Morriss understands it, his great-grandfather James came to the area in a covered wagon from the area of Bowling Green, Kentucky, recruited by the Presbyterian Church congregation of farmers.

Eventually, the family outgrew that initial house, just south of present-day Marcus High School, so his grandfather, Andrew, and his own father, James, built the current farmhouse. Ironically, both his dad and great-grandfather, also named James, passed away in the house.

Morris said when he was young, the family was “poorer than a church mouse,” but always hosted 35 to 40 people–mostly the families of his five aunts– for Christmas dinner.

“Grandpa was very laid-back,” he said. “Grandma Hetta was known as Dump. My mom was Leo.”

He recalled the large tree behind the current house– that died a couple of years ago– but was traditionally used to hang hogs right after slaughter.

“A lot of hogs were killed on this property,” he said. “When frozen food lockers came into being, that tradition stopped.”

His dad was good friends with Flower Mound’s first mayor, Bob Rheudasil, which proved instrumental in naming the street in honor of the family. Flower Mound incorporated in 1961 to avoid being annexed by the City of Irving.

A Texas A&M University alum, Morriss has lived in the house after residing in Plano for 32 years.

When he retired as a production engineer, after 31 years at Texas Industries, he was just 55-years-old, so he started a commercial lawn mowing business. But, after his wife passed away in 2001 and he downsized from their 3,000-square-foot house to Flower Mound, it became too hard to get back and forth to Plano.

Ironically, his current house was leased-out when he sold his Plano home and he put his stuff in storage and moved in next door, with brother, Walter, for two-months, until the house became available.

It needed a lot of work then and needs even more today.

Their father divided property between his four sons; and J.W., Jr. took care of their father in his later years. So, when the elder Morriss died in 2012, Ralph and Walter gave their share to J.W., Jr. in appreciation of everything he did for their father.

When J.W., Jr. died in 2014, his daughters wanted to sell the entire property. They gave Ralph 30-days to either buy the property or get out. Instead, Ralph convinced his friend Jimmy Gibson to buy it, which allowed Ralph to remain in the family home.

“We have a deal when he bought it that if either I passed away or left, he would give us first rights-of-refusal to buy it back for what he paid for it, or if I want to sell, it’s same deal,” he said. “He just wants his money back, so whatever Erica can get me, I pay him and I can have the remainder.”

In the meantime, he will continue working on the small farm adjacent to the house, where for years he has grown onions, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas and has never used pesticides.

“I can’t make anyone be sick, including me,” he said.

He also keeps active by walking to prepare to compete in the Susan G. Komen 3-day, 60-mile walk, not only in Dallas-Fort FW, but places like Boston in honor of a longtime friend. He has completed 11 so far and worked at three others.

He’ll need to find new places to walk once he leaves the homestead. He just wants something where he can kick back and enjoy his remaining time on Earth.

“As time goes on, I think I’ve become– shall I say– less melancholy about it,” he said. “The reason is, Flower Mound flat-out has outgrown me. I’m too much country. They say you can take the boy out of the country, but can’t take the country out of the boy.”

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